The below article appears in the latest edition of Team Fairfax Insider. It is posted to this blog with permission.
When Doug Turner joined the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in 1967, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, protests against the Vietnam War were growing, Elvis Presley got married, the world’s first heart transplant took place and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album reached number one on the charts.
Fairfax County had evolved from a farming community to one growing exponentially as the federal government created programs and jobs, and many of those employees settled in the surrounding suburbs. This put demands on the county to provide services to accommodate the public safety needs of the rapidly developing county, which provided many job opportunities.
With 10 years’ experience as a firefighter in the U.S. Air Force and at National Airport, Turner, at age 31, was hired by the Fire and Rescue Department and given badge #239, meaning he was the 239th firefighter hired. Back then, firefighters (all male until the county’s first female firefighter was hired in 1979) drove open-air fire engines and trucks, exposed to the elements and noise. “When a call came in,” Turner recalls, “firefighters put their helmets and boots on, grabbed their turnout coats, then jumped on the tailboard of the apparatus, hanging on for dear life. We put our coats on while flying down the street.” The phrase “catch the hydrant” was when the pumper would slow down slightly, but not stop, as it passed a fire hydrant near the fire. “The firefighters had to jump off the moving vehicle, grab the hose with a hydrant wrench wrapped inside and throw it toward the hydrant where they would anchor it with a foot as the pumper continued down the street stretching the hose toward the fire,” Turner explains.
In his career, Turner witnessed tremendous changes in training, protective clothing and equipment, as well as tactics and specialties such as emergency medical services, hazardous materials and technical rescue. There were no national standards at the time so they had to develop their own.
Looking back on his career, he described being promoted to sergeant at the Fire and Rescue Training Academy, where he worked from 1974 to 1982, as one of his most rewarding experiences. “Normally that assignment would be for a couple of years to get your ticket punched for future promotions,” he says. But he fell in love with training and stayed nearly eight years. He was part of a team of eight trained in emergency medical services, including CPR, by some Fairfax Hospital doctors so they could then train others in the department. The training was so rigorous that only four of the eight made it through.
Acknowledging the physical demands of the job and characterizing it as for the young, Turner strongly believed 55 was the age to hang up his helmet and stop riding apparatus, which he did in 1990. However, fire service was in his blood and he wanted to continue contributing, using his knowledge and many years of experience to return the next work day as a civilian inspector in the Fire Prevention Division where he has worked since.
What would he tell a new employee just starting out? “Consider carefully if it is something you want to do for the rest of your career,” Turner counsels. “If you don’t like your job, you won’t excel at it.” He added it’s important to “put your nose in the books and learn all you can in order to do the best job possible.”
Some go into firefighting because they think it will be nonstop excitement, Turner acknowledges. And while there is the thrill of saving people and property, there are also many hours of training, maintaining equipment and otherwise preparing for the calls that make up a smaller part of the actual job. Now with perspective in his 50th year, he looks back: “I have truly enjoyed my career.”